Tributes to
J. Desmond Clark


Desmond has the rare combination of being respected as a giant in his field, and at the same time being beloved by all whom he encountered. In order to remember why he is held in such universal affection, I have been thinking back to all the numerous times over the past 35 years - in very diverse venues on three continents - when I was fortunate to spend time with him. I think that a key factor has been that, in spite of his vast knowledge and stature, he was unassuming and truly kind with everyone, whether young or old, male or female, "big-shot" or recently started in our field. Desmond fitted in perfectly with any grouping of people on occasions that varied from the most to the least elegant. Not that he was like a chameleon. Rather he always remained exactly the same : incurably and delightfully the British gentleman, sharing his knowledge of and enthusiasm for his subject, his warmth and his dry sense of humour. I remember hot, sweaty, long and exhausting field outings, prospecting for fossils and artefacts in the Middle Awash. Desmond would be dressed as always in the field in his "mad-dogs-and-Englishmen-go-out-in-the-noonday-sun" clothes. His younger companions looked a good deal more tatty and were rather less talkative than usual because they were catching their breath. Not so Desmond. He would indefatigably dart about and excitedly point out all kinds of features, as always drawing everyone in and infecting them with his joy of living.
We have been encouraged to share a "jolly good show" story, and I do have one. Although it is a bit odd and rather far away from regular palaeoanthropology, I will tell it anyway because it fondly reminds of Desmond's great joy of living and of the surprising range of things he knew about, was interested in, and could do. It was the final gala evening of the Colloque International du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Nice in October 1982. At this lavish and formal affair the full orchestra had just started on a fast Viennese waltz. When Desmond asked me to dance I was a bit nervous - a rusty waltzer looking apprehensively at a huge empty dance floor surrounded by hundreds of people. Desmond said "Let's give it a jolly good try" and off we went with Desmond whisking me around at break-neck speed in the best waltz I have ever enjoyed. At the end he said "Jolly good show!". I should have known that he was as expert and dashing at this strangest of human activities - the waltz - as he was at so many of the things he did.

-Elisabeth Vrba, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University